To those journalists about to lose jobs in Australia, I’d say this: find yourself a place in the developing world where news breaks and start your own online site.
Immerse yourself in reporting the local news in a direct and lively fashion. Teach locals how to be good journalists. And if the revenue doesn’t roll in overnight, enjoy yourself. At least you’re doing some good.
That’s what happened with me and phuketwan.com (“wan” means both “day” and “sweet” in the Thai language, so the motto is ”sweet phuket every day”). I launched the site back in 2008 from Phuket, Thailand, after a long career in Australian journalism, and have seldom regretted a minute.
As someone who was first editor of The Age’s preprint Saturday Extra when broadsheet newspapers expanded to 300 pages then became the pioneer guiding hand for The Age’s online development, what’s been happening since 1995 holds no surprises for me. Newspapers are doomed. There is nothing a newspaper can do that cannot be done with greater speed and efficiency online, and with many more options.
And those who talk about the real value being in the journalism are right.
Back in 2009, PhuketWan, barely a year old, broke one of the biggest stories in the Indian Ocean region when it revealed that the Thai military was secretly capturing and pushing back Rohingya boat people. We found the hidden island where the captives were kept, and we told the world.
At the time, we were deeply concerned that the military might play rough, so we linked up with the South China Morning Post newspaper in Hong Kong to also break the story in the mainstream media.
That effort won us international awards for investigative and human rights reporting, as well as accolades for an important regional scoop, something that has probably rarely been achieved by such a small outfit. More recently, we were first to report the murder of Australian travel agent Michelle Smith on Phuket and to market our coverage through Australian mainstream outlets.
This is probably the alternative future for experienced journalists who want to keep practising their craft. The trick is to break free from the dull world of Australian politics and events and to find yourself a corner of the world where real news happens.
On the surface, Phuket is a great destination for a holiday but it’s also a fascinating island, undergoing constant change as West greets East, where corruption still flourishes and where there’s seldom a dull news day.
At PhuketWan our team of five reporters are never short of things to do. We generate between 25,000 and 50,000 visits a day, which places us around the same alexa.com world ranking as Alan Kohler’s Business Spectator. I am willing to bet, though, that it’s a while since Alan photographed a mass circumcision of 30 boys, watched a 16-year-old bride get hitched in an arranged marriage, or interviewed survivors of a plane crash.
As someone who wasted decades behind a desk as a mid-range editor, my advice to those who collect redundancy cheques in the next few months is this: get out there and rekindle your quality journalism skills. It’s never too late to change the world.